This semester I taught our optics elective using a similar approach that I used in our non-science-majors physics of sound and music last semester. Here’s a couple of posts about this class. The main approach consisted of:
- Students are not encouraged to prepare for class, other than thinking about the occasional “daily question” like “If we zoom in on a high-resolution image of mars, why can’t we see the rover?”
- In class I structure, hopefully, some “active learning” activities to engage with the material of the day. When we hit something that they’re confused about, we vote on whether to learn about it at that point or add it to the list of resources that I’ll provide after class. These resources are nearly always screencasts that I make either that day or the next (certainly before the next class period).
- At the end of class we review the list of resources and determine the nature of the “standard” for that day’s material. They tend to be “do an interesting problem on. . .”, “derive equation X.XX . . .”, or “I can use Mathematica to . . .”
- Between classes the students work on video assessments on the standards, utilizing the resources that I put together.
When I started thinking about this class, I was nervous about using a technique that I thought might slow us down, as not having them prepared for class meant starting from scratch every time. I did notice that in my sound and music class, but I’m happy to report that I felt we tackled the material pretty well this semester, covering the exact same chapters as last time I taught this class with a normal flipped approach.
As I’ve already noted, we didn’t fall behind. I’ve also been pretty happy with how well the students have mastered the material. I don’t necessarily mean their grades (which are pretty sucky right now, but they have 2 weeks to get all their reassessments in – I’m writing this post now because this past week marked the end of new material), I mean how well they’re able to tie all the concepts together. We talk about boundary conditions, plane waves, polarization, and the microscopic description of the index of refraction all the time, and they seem to have “mastered” at least the connections among all those things.
I really liked making screencasts for this class. I could target these particular students, with their needs and their common experience (with me) in class. I don’t actually think the videos will be overly re-usable, but I don’t think I really care. I say that because I feel like that’s my class prep time, and I don’t spend any more time doing that than I used to in my old flipped approach or, for that matter, in my old lecture approach.
I really like how we’ve used the textbook in class. It’s ranged from me asking where they thought an equation came from, through pointing out a particularly good image, to asking them to read a derivation in class and figuring out where they got lost. That last one was particularly intriguing to me as I felt a little weird asking them to just read in class. However, they were able to admit right where they got lost, so that when I did some screencasts for them later, I was able to focus right on those points.
I lectured. A lot. To quote Seinfeld: “not that there’s anything wrong with that.” We’d start a day with some conversation about something, and I’d land into “explain” mode. Mind you, we’d still have a relatively active class, but on most days I talked the most, by a lot. I think there’s lots of reasons for this.
- I’m very comfortable in “explain” mode
- They were often blank slates, with not a lot to build on
- Sometimes it felt like the best way to lay some groundwork for a deeper conversation
I started out with whiteboards, but ended with them just working on their own paper. There wasn’t as much sharing that way, but they seemed more comfortable. I think it’s because the class was so small (6). I’m not sure if this is really a “con,” maybe just an observation.
One student said he really would have preferred to prepare for class, so that we could go deeper into things. Another said that he doesn’t think we do enough of the math this way. Two more said they liked this approach, though those hadn’t ever experienced my other flipped approach.
Connection with SBG
I realized throughout the course that this approach works pretty well when tied with standards based grading. As a student noted when we debriefed this past Thursday, they eventually have to learn it all, so making lists of resources that they know they need is really helpful. I think if I did a more traditional assessment approach, they’d do more work outside of class because of homework (that’s a plus in my book), but the one-and-done nature of the exams would mean they might not fully leverage the resources. Also, the resources might not grow for a particular topic, as they can sometimes this way, because once the exam is over, that material “is dead to them.”
So, that’s my debrief, for now. I might do another once all the reassessments are in and graded. Your thoughts? Here’s some starters:
- I was in this class and it rocked! What I liked the most was . . .
- I was in this class, but I need to wait until after grades are in to explain just how much I hated it.
- I was reading the comments of the other posts and you said you might consider a non-all-in approach. Why did you lie?
- Why don’t you want to reuse your screencasts. I love just doing the class right once and coasting until retirement.
- You talk about standards but you don’t show how you leverage high stakes testing to achieve them. I don’t understand.
- You made the students read the book in class? Don’t you “flippers” always say that english professors would never make students read Shakespeare in class? Hypocrite!
- If you’re such a “flipper,” why don’t you give us readers something to read before we read your blog post?